After years of debate, the FCC is poised to put measures in place next month to enable network operators to retire existing copper serving end user customers and to replace it with fiber or other alternatives. On a briefing with reporters today, FCC officials said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is circulating two reports and orders that would formalize what network operators would be required to do in order to retire copper in a specific serving area. The commission is expected to vote on the items next month.
Requirements for carriers wanting to retire copper would include:
- Notifying retail customers six months in advance of retirement plans
- Notifying wholesale customers three months in advance of retirement plans
- The ability to forego notification if no service is discontinued, reduced or impaired
- Offering consumers the option to buy backup power providing at least eight hours of standby time when they are transitioned from traditional phone service to alternatives lacking backup power such as voice over fiber-to-the-home infrastructure
- Offering the option to buy backup power providing at least 24 hours of standby backup power within three years
What services qualify as a suitable replacement for existing copper-based offerings will be a critical issue, and although the new items do not resolve that issue, officials noted that the commission plans to create a definition so that network operators will have certainty about this. The items under consideration seek comment on appropriate criteria for replacement services, such as:
- Support for 911 service
- Network capacity and reliability
- Quality of voice service and Internet access
- Interoperability with alarm services, medical monitoring devices or other equipment
- Access for people with disabilities
- Network security in any IP-supported network that is comparable to the legacy network
- Coverage throughout the service area, either by the substitute network or via service from another provider
The latter is an important item, considering that some carriers may prefer to cut off some customers entirely if they believe it would be too costly to upgrade the infrastructure serving those customers. When AT&T proposed TDM-to-IP transition trials, the company noted a small percentage of customers that would fall into this category.
Potentially this could be an opportunity for broadband wireless carriers or other competitive carriers when the FCC decides how determinations about the availability of competitive offerings should be made.